In 1980, Lal Bihari, a man from the poor Indian state of Uttar Pradesh whose cousins had bribed a local official to have him declared dead in order to steal the one-fifth acre of land he owned, founded Mritak Sangh, the "association of the living dead," for similarly situated people who spend decades (and sometimes their entire lives) trying to resurrect themselves in the eyes of the national bureaucracy.
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Since 2011, the UK's Government Digital Service has radically transformed the way Britons interact with their government, streamlining bureaucratic processes, opening up data, and making APIs available for community groups and commercial players -- alas, the GDS has become a political football in Westminster and has hemorrhaged talent, becoming a sad reminder of a once-glorious dream of government delivered humanely, with the public in mind.
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To celebrate a Shanghai tenant's first anniversary of their lease, the building's owners decorated the edifice
like a yummy strawberry cake. Two days later, city workers had torn the decorations off at the behest of local officials. Read the rest
"The cost of excess bureaucracy in the U.S. economy amounts to more than $3 trillion in lost economic output, or about 17% of GDP," write Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini in Harvard Business Review. Their recommendation? Cut management in half. The don't specify if that's crosswise or lengthwise. Read the rest
As Boing Boing U's Assistant Deputy President of the Committee on Neighborhood Communications and Principal Vice Liaison to Interdepartmental Technology of the Subcommittee for Academic Communications, I insist that we form a committee to investigate whether the "web site" University Title Generator constitutes unacceptable bait speech. Read the rest
"Be nice, know your shit, but don't take any shit."
That's web producer Hannah Birch's advice for getting what is rightfully your from a government bureaucracy that thinks of you as an annoyance with an number attached to it. She did't use those exact words (they were written by Reason's Anthony L. Fisher), but they sum up her hard fought lesson in getting a driver license from the NY Department of Motor Vehicles.
Birch suffers from oculocutaneous albinism, an eye condition which allows her to see well enough to drive safely but which prevents her from making out the small-printed text of an eye exam. She writes, "even though I can’t read those tiny little letters on the sheet of paper they hold up, doctors in three states now have concluded my vision is good enough for me to safely drive."
The NY DMV provides a form which allows a person to submit a doctor's evaluation of their ability to drive. Even though Birch had that form, as well as a doctor's thumb's up, she knew she was in for a long hard slog at the most loathed of state bureaucracies because as she notes, "government workers can still make it difficult for you to get what you’re qualified for under the law."
Here's Birch's advice:
Know As Much As You Can in Advance
Figure Out As Much As You Can Quickly
Speak Directly and Stand Your Ground
Follow Up With the People Who Helped You Out
ProPublica: My Story as a DMV Edge Case: How to Battle Bureaucracy and Win Read the rest
Papers, Please's Lucas Pope has us shuffling pen and paper again in the joyfully-bleak Unsolicited, a game about filling in and mailing form letters.
Dutch photographer Jan Banning's book "Bureaucratics" is a collection of amazing photos of bureaucrats on five continents, each posed at his or her desk, in her or his office, with notes about rank and salary. Pictured above, "India bureau typeroom," Bihar. Below, Sheriff of Crockett County, TX.
The photography has a conceptual, typological approach reminding of August Sander’s ‘Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts’ (‘People of the Twentieth Century’). Each subject is posed behind his or her desk. The photos all have a square format (fitting the subject), are shot from the same height (that of the client), with the desk – its front or side photographed parallel to the horizontal edges of the frame – serving as a bulwark protecting the representative of rule and regulation against the individual citizen, the warm-blooded exception. They are full of telling details that sometimes reveal the way the state proclaims its power or the bureaucrat’s rank and function, sometimes of a more private character and are accompanied by information such as name, age, function and salary. Though there is a high degree of humour and absurdity in these photos, they also show compassion with the inhabitants of the state’s paper labyrinth.
(via Super Punch)
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William sez, "On August 2, 1978, a landmark decision in Reno Federal Court ruled prostitutes are actually brothel employees and therein lies the SIC coding problem unique to Nevada. My father in law was an economist for the federal bureau of labor statistics. Today he shared with me a document he found in the back of a desk drawer. Apparently the folks in Nevada responsible for categorizing businesses by industry (formerly called the Standard Industrial Classification system, now known as NAICS) weren't sure how to label brothels, which had previously been staffed by independent contractors until such practice had been deemed illegal. Thus a victory for worker rights became a nightmare for the local government officials."
REQUEST FOR SIC CODING INTERPRETATION
(Thanks, William Ray Yeager!)
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Artist/prankster Phil Lucas puts up fake "planning notices" around Brighton, England, announcing his plans to radically improve the cityscape and inviting people to comment via the local government's planning authority.
I live in Hackney, which boasts England's "worst performing planning authority" (as one MP recently put it in Parliament), so I sympathise with these shenanigans. I've been through multiple planning petitions for permission to put a glass box on my disused balcony to grow plants in and use as a dining room in warm months, and have been turned down because it would "disrupt the street-scene" on my manky, dogshit-strewn, tumbling-down road in east London.
Planning Notices in Brighton
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
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The NYT's Scott James recounts the insane red-tape endured by Juliet Pries, an entrepreneur who decided to open an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco's Cole Valley. She had to pay rent on an empty storefront for over two years while the necessary permits were processed, and tens of thousands of dollars in fees (including the cost of producing a detailed map of nearby businesses, which the city itself seemed not to have). If the story sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a notorious Xtranormal-produced Hello City Planner video that used it as an example to lampoon the planning bureaucracy in San Francisco.
Pries's restaurant, the Ice Cream Bar, is a popular hit, and employs 14 people, but “Many times it almost didn’t happen," as she says, due to the incredibly administrative hurdles she faced in opening it.
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Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.
The ice cream shop’s travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities.
The matter has also alarmed some business leaders, who point out that few small ventures could survive such long delays.
The Indiana Election Division sends its notices out with a small styrofoam cube in the envelope; the cube increases the envelope's thickness to 3/4", so it qualifies for discounted parcel-rate shipping.
The Styrofoam cube enclosed in this envelope is being included by the sender to meet a United States Postal Service regulation. This regulation requires a first class letter or flat using the Delivery or Signature Confirmation service to become a parcel and that it "is in a box or, if not in a box, is more than 3/4 of an inch thick at its thickest point." The cube has no other purpose and may be disposed of upon opening this correspondence.
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